Viewer Beware, Sony Is The Real Scare Behind Goosebumps: HorrorLand!

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Hello guys, and this time I’m back to discuss an upcoming sequel to a children’s book film adaptation coming out next Fall: Goosebumps: HorrorLand! Ah, Goosebumps. Children’s literature’s most iconic horror franchise that may or may not have ensured you got nightmares as a kid thanks to author R.L. Stine’s creative blend of humor and horror to ensure that yes, it stayed a children’s book series. Whether it be evil talking ventriloquist dummies, monster blood that either ate you or made you grow upon eating it, or the good ol’ mummy-vampire-clown-werewolf-zombie-scarecrow-ghost-sorcerer variety, Goosebumps had it all. And it has it all, for Stine, after taking a lengthy break on the series, went back to it some time ago and dared to give flagship villain Slappy the Dummy his own series in the latest set of entries, Goosebumps SlappyWorld. So it’s truly awesome to see that Stine is still writing.

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Keep it up, Stine!

As for me, I only pretended to be scared of the books as a kid to get a good laugh from my peers, though I secretly enjoyed them. This was especially the case of the 90’s Fox Kids live-action television series, of which I did not grow up watching during the original run but I got my fair share of investment from DVD rents at the library among other methods (though kids these days are lucky with Netflix having pretty much the whole thing, if it’s still there now). My personal favorite to this day remains Chicken, Chicken, with Why I’m Afraid of Bees and My Hairiest Adventure coming close; there was something about transformation into another animal that really interested me and freaked me out at the same time. (And the fit I threw when I found out that a) the TV series adapted the books out of order, and b) not all the books were adapted, including my precious Chicken, Chicken, though they at least did My Hairiest Adventure). And of course, I have my fair share of love for Stay Out of the Basement, Attack of the Masked Mutant, The Haunted School, The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena, Calling All Creeps, The Ghost Next Door and The Haunted Mask. Not to mention The Perfect School, actually a short story that I was more familiar with from the TV episode adaptation. Memories.

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“Viewer Beware, You’re In For A Scare!”

So when the first Goosebumps film was announced, I was quite intrigued. When it comes to deciding whether your work should get the TV or movie treatment, it can be a tough decision depending on the nature of the work. The self-contained plots of the Goosebumps books made the material perfect for a television adaptation, so to see how they were going to do so many books the service they deserved in under two hours (remember, even the TV show didn’t adapt all of them, and Stine has a bibliography of approximately 200 of these books, including those out of print!) was something I had to see to believe. I occasionally checked news updates about the film to see what other people thought, and it was…interesting, to say the least. Granted, it seemed that people weren’t actually that hopeful it would do well. I can see what they meant, as it had a cheap budget, and director Rob Letterman had previously been known for Shark Tale and Gulliver’s Travels. However, he was also known for Monsters vs. Aliens, and Scholastic just made a film studio named Silvertongue Films to oversee it, so I had a good feeling about it. And how amused I was to hear that it opened to good reviews! Although I didn’t see it in theaters, I eventually saw it on demand, and I could see what the reviewers meant.

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I won’t reveal too much, but the writers were smart on this one. They took a metafictional approach to the plot, with R.L. Stine serving as the linkage to unite enough of these books together in a way that would allow such proper service to the books in the under two-hour runtime. They also took an interesting approach to casting Jack Black in the role, which may have contributed to the concern. Black’s comedy roots, while fitting for the property in general, don’t exactly scream the enigmatic and reclusive Master of Fright at first as he occasionally appears in the media (his appearance in the opening theme and the real Stine’s cameos in the TV series come to mind). But Black successfully adds a comedic angle to the writer by blending his signature acting chops with Stine’s previously established personality traits, making Stine fit well into the world he created while still perserving his original character.

Basically, Stine is established in canon as the writer of the books who one day found that his creations were coming to life, so he kept them locked up in special manuscripts to prevent them from escaping. But a series of events entails that causes his antagonists to escape, until Slappy himself gets summoned and devises a plan to round up the monsters to kill Stine so they can be forever freed and unleash their chaos on the world. And the only thing between them and their goals is Stine’s own alliance with three teenagers. Boy, do I love stories with such great odds stacked against the hero like this film. Not only that, but there were interesting surprises in the movie that I genuinely enjoyed, giving it its fair share of heart as well as humor and action. It’s not the next big blockbuster, but the movie is still one that has earned its place, and I’m glad its here.

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Now, here’s the thing: obviously Sony Pictures Entertainment, who for some reason got the film rights to the franchise, saw the potential in this film as I did, and did the frowned upon act of announcing the sequel roughly a month before the first film came out. In case you don’t know, unless you are a visionary like Kevin Feige, announcing films in advance of the film you’re putting out now is a huge sign that you don’t really care about the product as much as you care about how much money you’re going to get, and when you’re going to get it. Even J.K. Rowling got (some) fire for confirming that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was actually the first installment in a pentalogy just before the first film was released, but her Feige-like approach calmed fans down. It’s okay to announce sequels, but the time (and state of affairs with your fans) must be right. Because who didn’t think HorrorLand was coming?

But it didn’t end there, and I was hoping it would, but Sony…well…let’s just say that their film division hasn’t exactly been as great as it used to be. Among their crimes as of this writing include, but are not limited to:

  • Making a parody movie about a very real, evil regime who hacked and threatened them, not releasing the film and losing money as a result
  • Ditching a Popeye film adaptation for The Emoji Movie
  • Deteriorating the Spider-Man franchise to the point that they had to make a deal with Marvel to save it, then making useless spinoffs in their slow attempt to (what I believe) take Spidey back once the deal runs out
  • The Emoji Movie
  • The politics behind 2016’s Ghostbusters of which I will never understand
  • The Emoji Movie
  • You know that Peter Rabbit movie, another children’s book adaptation? Yeah, it’s not being welcomed too well
  • Wait, how could I forget The Emoji Movie? Oops.

You get the point. First, they briefly dropped the perfect title and the obvious direction to take the franchise next before re-confirming it with a pushed back release date from January to September, and then all of a sudden came a questionable avalanche of changes behind the scenes: the director, the script and even Jack Black himself!

First, we’ll talk about the director. It only made sense for Letterman to return to the sequel after Goosebumps helped cement his career in terms of critical success. And when it was announced that he was taking the reigns for Detective Pikachu as a result, I was excited. I’m a huge fan of Pokémon, and it just made so much sense to hire the guy who brilliantly juggled Stine’s monsters to juggle the Pocket Monsters. But then he left the director’s chair for HorrorLand, though I imagine he did it so he could completely devote the time to Detective Pikachu that the film truly deserves. Enter Ari Sandel, who up until this point is only known for teen comedy THE DUFF, itself a book adaptation that did get good reviews. So at least the director shift was smooth and Sandel will be able to help Silvertongue keep Sony in check for the other things going on.

It was stated some time back that there were scheduling concerns involving Jack Black, so much so that the studio had a contingency plan: an alternate script not featuring his character, looking to cut costs farther without Black’s involvement. This script, if it gets the go-ahead, could potentially very well doom the movie, and here’s the reason why. As I said earlier, the Goosebumps books did not typically feature R.L. Stine to start with, so a Stine-less film, in this respect, could work. What can’t work is a Stine-less sequel, in which a continuity has already been established in which Stine is a central character. Because of this, Black has to return. It turns out that the scheduling concerns seem to be in conflict with The House with a Clock in Its Walls, coincidentally another horror book adaptation, and – guess what – in addition to the film schedules clashing, the release dates were clashing as well. Until recently that is, when, after it was stated that they might push the date back again as a result, they, well…actually only pushed it back to October like the first film, so…it might actually end up turning out okay after all, given the studio? Sandel and Silvertongue must really be doing it.

I’m guessing that this means they have a plan to narrowly get the time from Black that they need to film HorrorLand, which I hope is the case. It looks okay right now, but no movie is out of the woods until it’s released (and sometimes a while after its released). I’m just glad it appears that Silvertongue is aware of Sony’s recent reputation and we might get a good sequel after all. But this is what they have to deal with for now, a studio that secretly tries its best to ruin its films if those working on the movie don’t keep their guard up. Note how I said for now, because it’s looking increasingly likely that Sony could sell off its film division a-la Fox at this rate in a few or even a couple of years, and whoever Sony ends up getting sold to, it has to be a better studio than Sony itself, right?

So given the surprisingly (and gratefully) stable production of HorrorLand, and Sony’s inevitable future, it appears that HorrorLand and the (likely) inevitable Goosebumps 3 will be worthwhile films after all. Still, viewer beware, and I will definitely notify you of any more potential meddling behind the scenes if it comes up. Now, if we could only get confirmation of Stine assembling the heroes of his novels to help him, Zach, Hannah and Champ take out the Menace. That would be sweet. 😀

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